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The Ten Commandments: What They Forbid and Promote

You might be able to list the ten commandments in order, but do you know what they forbid and promote?

The Ten Commandments

I used to think I knew the ten commandments pretty well. “Thou shall not steal.” Got it. Won’t steal anyone’s stuff. As long as I do that I’m good, right? Not necessarily. There’s more to the ten commandments than what first meets the eye, and below you can find what they both encourage and discourage. 1

The Ten Commandments: What They Forbid and Promote

From Exodus 20: 3-17.

1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Forbids: Having or worshipping any other God but Yahweh. Worshipping false notions of the God of the Bible.

Promotes: Worshipping God correctly and worshipping him alone. Exclusive loyalty to Yahweh and consecrating ourselves from the world to be fully devoted to him.

2nd Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

Forbids: Creating carved images in place of worshipping the triune God. Worshipping God without regard to his preferences.

Promotes: Avoiding idolatrous worship. Worshipping God as he has prescribed in his Word.

3rd Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

Forbids: Taking the Lord’s name in vain, or showing a lack of reverence for the Lord’s goodness in your speech. Mindless “god talk.”

Promotes: Using the Lord’s name correctly, and showing proper respect and reverence to him. Showing respect to all peoples with your speech, but especially those in authority.

4th Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

Forbids: Not taking a Sabbath’s day rest. Not allowing those who work for you not to take a Sabbath’s day rest.

Promotes: Taking one day off of work per week.  Worshipping on the Sabbath. Celebrating redemption (Deut 5:12-15). Showing mercy to others. Working six days a week.

5th Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Forbids: Not showing proper honor to your parents and also those in other areas of authority (e.g., government officials, police officers, etc.) Since the early church, Christians have viewed the 5th commandment to apply not just to your parents, but to all authority figures.

Promotes: Honoring your parents and all of those in authority. Giving significant weight to your parents. Taking care of their needs as they age. Not being resentful or harsh with them.

6th Commandment: “You shall not murder.”

Forbids: Murder. Racism. Hate. Unauthorized killing. Abortion. Unjust war.

Promotes: Unity. Love. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Respect for other image bearer’s.

7th Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.”

Forbids: Extramarital sex. Lust. Divorce (in most cases).

Promotes: Sex in the context of a covenant marriage, between one man and one woman. Faithfulness to your spouse. Watchfulness over your sexual desires.

8th commandment: “You shall not steal.”

Forbids: Stealing. Oppression. Bribery. Fraudulent dealing. Greed. Idleness.

Promotes: Financial responsibility. Contentment with what God has provided. Generosity. Care for the poor. Giving your money to God’s kingdom purposes.

9th Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

Forbids: Gossip. Slander. Lying. Bearing false witness in a court of Law. Judging rashly. Any form of spreading dissension with your words.

Promotes: Unity. Truthfulness. Keeping promises. Keeping your word. Desiring to promote the good name of your neighbor. Believing the best in other people’s words first. Being slow to judge what others say.

10th Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Forbids: Coveting. Rivalry. Jealously. Discontentment. Fixation on what God has not provided.

Promotes: Contentment. Satisfaction with God’s provision. Gratitude.

More to the Ten Commandments

As you can see, there’s more to the 10 commandments than we usually think. 2 Yes, all 10 commandments still matter today. We should take them seriously and seek to study and appropriately apply them to our lives.

You may also like: 

  1. What I’ve Learned About Leviticus After Studying it for Over a Decade 
  2. Is the Old Testament Still Relevant Today? 



  1. Dan Doriani, “Christian Ethics” (lecture, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO, spring semester, 2019).
  2. To build on the first footnote, much of the material in this post is derived from a series of excellent lectures given by Dr. Dan Dorani from a class called Christian Ethics.

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